* Mary Oliver, William Blake & the friday influence

Blake Dying – Mary Oliver

He lay
with the pearl of his life under the pillow.

Space shone, cool and silvery,
in the empty cupboards

while he heard in the distance, he said,
the angels singing.

Now and again his white wrists
rose a little above the white sheet.

When death is about to happen
does the body grow heavier or lighter?

He felt himself growing heavier.
He felt himself growing lighter.

When a man says he hears angels singing,
he hears angels singing.

When a man says he hears angels singing,
he hears angels singing.

night startled by the lark - wiliam blake
night startled by the lark – wiliam blake

This week on the Influence: Mary Oliver!

I picked this poem up at work while shelving Mary Oliver’s latest book, A Thousand Mornings.  

The words stopped me as I shelved.  There is simplicity in this poem that is akin to still life painting – but a poet’s take on it.  A moment – a dying moment – as still life.

She conjures much with little.  From pearl to space to her choices in colors – all of it culminates into the hanging presence of Blake’s hearing angels singing. 

There’s not much to do once you get into this kind of moment in a poem but acknowledge it.

Blake’s relationship with the angels takes me back to being 18, sitting in Dana Levin’s Form and Theory class, her introducing a Blake poem, prefacing it by saying This guy saw angels in the trees!  

Being, again, 18, I was like – yes, of course, totally – eager to understand and see them too.

Seeing the angels in this poem is another lesson.  Oliver’s repetition in the last two couplets – their very emphasis on Blake’s words – drives home to me how all a poet can do is tell what they see, how they see it.  And all that’s needed to honor this seeing is to listen.

Happy listening!


2 responses to “* Mary Oliver, William Blake & the friday influence”

  1. Thanks, Jose, for your weekly installment, your sense of Mary Oliver’s poem. Of course, Mary Oliver is a treasure (and most prolific, of late, it seems to me) but then so is William Blake. I think that “The Sick Rose,” for example, is a rich mine of words, in all its brevity. And I fondly remember reading somewhere that upon being queried about her husband’s whereabouts, Mrs. Blake said words to the effect that “Mr. Blake is often in Paradise.”

    1. Wow! I didn’t know that bit about Mrs. Blake – but damn appropriate. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say. Blake is a lesson and a marvel many times over. One of my favorite moments in reading poems is when I reread Blake’s poem “London” and noted the acrostic spelling of HEAR in this stanza:

      How the Chimney-sweepers cry
      Every blackning Church appalls,
      And the hapless Soldiers sigh
      Runs in blood down Palace walls …

      not sure if intentional or not, but O how it enlivens the poem.

      Thanks, Tim!

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